Blue-tongue skinks, like most other lizards, are able to drop their tails. However, there is a lot more to it than just this!
So let’s get straight to the point and answer the question.
Blue-tongue skinks are able to drop their tails.
Well, almost all blue-tongue skinks that is. The Shingleback Blue-Tongue (also known as tiliqua rugosa) is the one species of blue-tongue that does not have this ability.
Why Do They Drop Their Tails?
Basically, blue-tongue skinks can do use this as a defensive mechanism (along with other lizard species). In the wild, if a skink is grabbed or bitten by its tail, it can break or pull off. This is known as autonomy.
Autonomy comes from 2 old Greek words, auto and tomy, which mean “self” and “to severe“. Together, it literally means “self-amputation.”
Geckos for instance can also drop their tails, although a gecko’s tail-dropping ability is much quicker than a blue-tongue’s.
You might be wondering, but aren’t skinks rather slow animals, at least relative to a lot of other quicker predators?
Nature however, also gave a kind of “extra bonus” to their tail-dropping method of evasion as, after a skink drops its tail, it’s tail will continue to wiggle and move around, either confusing the predator long enough so that the skink can get away, or making the predator think they still have their prey clutched in its grasp.
You might think that is that, but there’s a little more to this special ability.
You see, after a skink drops its tail, a new one will begin to regrow and regenerate in its place.
The downside is that this generally will take a very long time. As in, up to a year.
And in the wild, a year is a very, very long time.
It also will not look quite as good as its original, either in size, shape or appearance, and usually all 3.
So, how exactly does this autonomy happen?
It’s quite clever, actually.
Almost all lizard species are genetically wired to have something called a “fracture plane” right where their tail connects to their body.
If struck, hit or bitten right on that fracture plane, the muscles will reflexively spasm and disconnect from each other.
This capability has evolved throughout millions of years so that, when it happens, no blood spurts out or anything. It’s blocked off, and the new tail that will soon regrow will be replaced by cartilage and new muscle.
Now, it generally takes quite a bit of force in order for this happen, in combination with a high-stress event (like running from your life trying to escape from a predator), but it can still happen from something not quite as life-threatening.
What to Do If Your Blue-Tongue Drops Its Tail
Remember, it’s not quite that easy for a blue-tongue skink to drop its tail, but if it happens, you’ll need to be know what to do.
In the wild, excess water and food that has been accumulated is stored in skinks’ tails. This “storage unit” allows skinks to continually have a source of nourishment even when none exists. It basically serves as their “fall back option” during rough periods.
In captivity however this is not necessary, so long as they are in the care of an educated owner.
Here’s basically a quick outline of what you’ll need to do immediately after discovering your blue-tongue has dropped his or her tail:
- check and rinse
- (maybe) clean
- watch and prevent against infection
The first thing you’ll need to do is check the wound. It will be plainly obvious, and even a bit scary, but don’t worry (at least yet).
What you’ll want to look for is any substrate, dirt, gunk or anything not flesh stuck to the wound.
If no, excellent.
If yes, the best thing to do is to take both hands, pick up your blue-tongue and put the end of the tail under a faucet or sink, preferably allowing a small stream of warm water to flow over the wound and wash away anything unnatural.
If there was a noticeable amount of substrate, gunk, junk or whatever that was stuck to your blue-tongue skink’s tail, it may be a good idea to put some diluted povidone-iodine solution onto the area. Povidone-iodine is that purplish looking stuff that doctors use to clean wounds in hospitals.
Generally however this is not going to be necessary, as blue-tongues are very hardy animals that have quite resilient immune systems. If your skink was in good-health when the tail dropped, this should not really be a concern.
After you check the wound for anything visible stuck to it, the next step is to simply let nature do its work.
It will typically take quite a long time for your blue-tongue’s tail to regrow. Expect anywhere from 6 months to a year, and even after that, the tail will still not be as long, large or colorful as it once was.
The only thing you’ll need to really do is to watch for infection.
It’s not common, but it could potentially be fatal.
What you’ll want to look for is any type of noticeable swelling or discharge from the wound. It will look quite disgusting and be a white, yellow or greenish color.
If you do see this, it’s time to be proactive and stop any chance of it getting serious.
You’ll need to:
- clean the wound with an antibiotic treatment or ointment once or twice daily
- you can use diluted povidone-iodine for this, or consider using chlorhexidine gluconate
- watch for signs of improvement or worsening
If the wound starts to get better, excellent. You’ve done your job and the infection has been killed.
If it starts to get worse, as in more discharge or swelling, or the condition doesn’t improve, you’ll need to go all out; which means a visit to the vet.
The vet will probably administer stronger antibiotics as treatment, and hopefully, it will be enough to overcome the infection.
Chances are, even if you have a skink that has dropped its tail, you won’t have to worry about an infection.
As good practice, it would be a good idea to keep your blue-tongue in a separate terrarium or box if you have more than one pet, at least for the time being.
Like I noted above, the healing process is quite lengthy, but you can do a few extra things to speed it up a bit:
- make sure your terrarium is clean, with regular cleanings and checks
- make sure your bluey is on a good diet
- make sure your bluey gets enough calcium in his or her diet, as a calcium deficiency can delay the regrowth process
To sum everything up:
- all blue-tongues except for Shinglebacks are able to drop their tail
- tail-dropping is known as autonomy and is a defensive mechanism
- if your blue-tongue’s tail has dropped;
- make sure the wound is clean
- watch for infection, especially the first few days, weeks and months